St. Thomas Skywatch May + June 2017
Three planets make sky watching fun right now. Once darkness falls, look high overhead for the largest of all the planets, Jupiter. Rising in the east as the Sun sets is Saturn. It will be easier to see by waiting a few hours so Saturn can climb higher in the eastern sky. If you are up before dawn the very bright Venus will dominate the eastern sky until overpowered by the sunrise.
Look toward the North, to find seven bright stars that form the best known of all the star groups, the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is part of a larger group of stars, the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Seven bright stars that form the dipper; three stars form the curved handle and four more the bowl. You can use the Big Dipper to find your way around the sky. If you draw a line through the two stars at the end of the bowl and extend the line toward the horizon, you will come to a fainter star, this is Polaris, the North Star.
Polaris is called the North Star because it is almost exactly directly over the North Pole of the Earth. Thus, while all the other stars circle the night sky from east to west, Polaris stays in the same spot. Go back to the Big Dipper. Draw a line through the same two stars, but this time in the opposite direction. You will come to a bright reddish colored star. This is Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion. Regulus is also the dot at the base of a backwards question mark. The top of the question mark forms the lion's head.
Return once more to the Big Dipper. This time follow the arc of the handle to the bright star Arcturus and speed on to Spica. Arcturus is the brightest star in Boötes, the Herdsman. Spica is a piece of wheat being held in the hand of Virgo, the Goddess of the Harvest.
Shooting stars or meteors are the flash of light we see as pebble sized rocks burn up speeding through the air some 50 miles about the Earth. When the Earth passes through a cloud of this debris left behind by a comet, we experience a meteor shower. On the night of May 6-7 we will experience the maximum of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. These "shooting stars" are dust left behind by Halley's Comet. The best time to observe this shower is between about 3:00 a.m. and dawn. Moonlight will block out many of the fainter meteors but you should be able to see a few of the brighter ones.
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, anytime is a good time to visit the Virgin Islands. In fact, there really is not much change in the seasons here in the tropics. The lack of dramatic seasons is due to the fact that in the Islands, as the Sun makes its daily trek across the sky, it is always high in the sky. In the temperate zones the Sun is high in the sky during the Summer, but much lower in the sky during the Winter. On June 21st, the Sun will reach its northernmost point in the sky directly over the Tropic of Cancer. This is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.